Strategic Practices of the Institutional School: Discursive approach

Today we are celebrating our friend´s achievement!

Kristiina Engblom-Pelkkala has been researching Strategic Practices of the institutional School in her doctoral dissertation.

Päivi, Johanna and Elina enjoying thesis defence

We are happy to share the abstract of the thesis below:

“Education has been a central value for Finnish people ever since its inception. The school has been considered a significant institution, a building block of our society and culture. These national values have been reflected in societal politics and education policy, allowing us to do well in international comparisons and to be differentiated from others. The organization, management, and oversight of education have been targets of continual and tense discussion because the educational system is how education policy is realized. As an institution, the school has turned out to be quite stable and strong, even though today’s school faces various different demands in a changing society. I have examined strategy and management in an institutional school and the environment it functions in. I have aimed to find the institutional face of the school and to connect it with social practices. I focus on the institution of school and its strategic management in practice and as practice. I define strategy as a shared understanding of the goals of the organization. This study represents research in interaction, language, and practices, which is a new type of perspective within research on strategies and strategy work. The wide view of strategy in this research differs from traditional research on strategy. It highlights the significance of each member in the organization on how the strategy is put into practice. My concept of strategy contains the idea of mindful targeting of the limited economic and personnel resources of the public sector in order to reach the desired goals in education policy and pedagogy. In the strategic management of school, this entirety is built together by personnel resources and the quality content of teaching. In my research, I aim to find new methods to examine strategy and to do strategy work in practice and in daily life. I want to look at the significance of the members of the organization and their actions in putting the strategy into practice. The oversight by the government and the strategic management of municipalities are seen in this study as methods by the institutions to guide activity in a desired direction. At the level of municipal organization, the strategic management of the teaching profession brings forth the importance of municipal decision making and a dualistic government model. At an individual level, the focus of interest is the discourse of the educational institution management regarding strategic management as practice.

I have chosen to use an abductive research approach, which is in the intersection of theory-based and data-based research. This study is based on the relationship between theory and empirical research. An abductive approach enables a strong empirical foundation and a dialogue between theory and empirical data throughout the work. The research methodology is based on critical theory. I use discourse analysis to examine strategy as practice, as part of an institutional and social reality, as produced through language and activity. In short, I conduct a practical analysis of strategy discursively. My work is interdisciplinary research, where I have an opportunity to look at the school and its management from the perspectives of pedagogy and municipal government. The core of the research data consists of 52 interviews, which I have analysed using categorical analysis. I examine the school environment from the perspectives of political actors and central leaders in the administration. I analyse the strategic management of the school using the headmaster’s profession as a lens. By doing so, I connect institutional and strategic analysis to societal practice by examining the activities of policy, systems, and organization both in general and as discourse among individuals. I am interested in how an institutional reality is constructed and how strategy is realized as social practice in school management. I analyse the discourses of school management in a fourfold table, using four categories: the discursive practices of the administration, the discursive practices of daily life, the professional discursive practices of the headmaster, and discursive collaborative practices. Based on the categorization, the data has been analysed and synthesised. Eight different ethoses emerged from the synthesis. They construct an image of today’s school and its management. The headmaster is a central figure, but his or her management work is being made more challenging by three factors: multiform oversight by the government, the difficult-to-change practices of the school, and the way school is treated as a unit of economy. As the responsibilities of the municipalities go through drastic changes, schools rise to the centre of municipal services. This is an opportunity that schools should take. ”